HP’s Reverb G2 Headset Positions It Well for VR’s Next Act
It has been an exciting week for those of us closely monitoring the Virtual Reality market, with numerous important new product announcements. Earlier this week, Carolina Milanesi talked about Qualcomm’s plans to work with partners to bring VR viewers to 5G smartphones and the new product and social platform coming from Perter Chou’s XRSpace. And yesterday, HP announced the next version of its Reverb headset, called the G2, which I’ll be discussing here. More broadly, however, these announcements reflect an industry that is finding its footing and figuring out what consumers and business users want and need.
HP’s Ongoing Commitment to VR
HP has been a player in the VR market since the launch of its original Mixed-Reality based headset called the VR1000 back in 2017. HP was just one of a number of PC OEMs that followed Microsoft’s reference design recipe for a mixed reality headset, hurriedly launched into the market in an attempt to grab some of the early-adopter market that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive had cornered.
While very few of the PC OEMs followed up with a second headset, HP did. Its Reverb headset, launched in March 2019, saw the company get much more serious about VR. The new headset offered a much more refined and comfortable design, a higher resolution display, and integrated headphones. The Reverb was well received by the market, and HP found success in selling the device to both consumers and commercial users.
In addition to its focus on the Reverb, HP also brought to market purpose-built PCs for driving both its own headsets and others. In addition to high-powered desktop and notebook computers, the company has also continued to ship Desktop VR Backpack products that let gamers move around without being tethered to a stationary PC. These types of rigs are essential to location-based VR installations.
Finally, and perhaps just as important as the hardware launches, HP hired Joanna Popper as the global head of VR for location-based entertainment in 2018. Formerly a Hollywood producer who also held jobs at NBC Universal and Singularity University, Popper is an important player and thought leader in the VR space. Her hiring showed just how serious HP was about VR as a business.
This brings us to the G2, announced this week, and set to ship later this year. I’ve yet to test out the headset, but all signs point to well-conceived product. HP worked closely with both Microsoft and Valve, which operates the SteamVR platform (and also, incidentally, ships its own Index headset). In fact, Valve designed the new lenses HP uses in the G2, which it says boosts the visual experience and better leverages the 2k by 2k per-eye resolution. Like the original Reverb, the G2 offers a 114-degree field of view.
Other new features include integrated speakers in the headset that support spatial audio, Four built-in cameras that HP says enables 1.4 X more movement capture than the previous headset. A new flip-up design makes wearing the headset more comfortable. And new controllers with an updated button layout.
HP says the Reverb G2 will be available in the Fall, selling for $599. I’m pleased by the pricing, but I do wish the headset was ready to ship now.
In fact, I would argue that right now, one of the critical challenges that VR is facing is not a lack of content, use cases, or demand, but a simple lack of supply. It is exceedingly hard to get VR headsets right now, with key products such as the Oculus Quest and the Valve Index consistently on backorder, due to supply-side challenges and very robust demand.
As the world headed into lockdown, we saw both consumer and commercial users come back to take another look at VR. On the consumer side, people stuck inside showed a renewed interest in the technology, helped by exciting new games (such as Valve’s Alyx) and use cases (such as the fitness app Supernatural). And on the commercial side, organizations faced with challenges around employee training and remote collaboration are looking ever more closely at VR. It’s notable that after some time in closed beta, Oculus Business is now open and accepting orders. The extent to which companies are leveraging VR is truly impressive. My colleague Ramon Llamas recently wrote about the growth of VR training for empathy.
All told, VR is having a moment. Broadly speaking, the industry has reset expectations. It’s not going to take over the world anytime soon (or, frankly, ever), but with new products like the Reverb 2 and a broadening range of use cases and content, the technology is becoming more relevant to more people every day. The missing element continues to be a widely available, universally known, safe place for people to meet and hang out in VR. That might be the upcoming XRSpace Manova or Oculus Horizon, or something we’ve yet to see. Once that piece falls into place, things are going to get very interesting in VR.